Postmodernism has largely sought to modify our notions about how to think of the world. In doing this it has attempted to downplay rationality in favour of more subjective criteria.

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Steiner Kvale was the Professor of Educational Psychology at the Aarhus University in Denmark. He was a noted international authority on postmodernism and psychology. In his view, some of the most important themes of postmodernism were:

  • A doubt that any human truth is a simple objective representation of reality.
  • A focus on the way societies use language to construct their own realities.
  • A preference for the local and specific over the universal and the abstract.
  • Acceptance that different descriptions of reality can’t always be measured against one another in any objective way.
  • A willingness to accept things as they are on the surface rather than to search for deeper meanings.

Postmodernism is not a comprehensive theory or a comprehensive philosophy. It is predominantly a cultural artefact that leads to diverse diagnoses and interpretations of the world coloured by the convenience of the underlying beliefs of its adherents. It is intellectually lazy and constructs scenarios to favour the world view of its adherents.

So this perverse viewpoint rejects the notion that underlying our understanding of the world that there is a reality that we might come to know through science and empirical understanding. Instead it posits that knowledge is subjective so that any particular interpretation of the truth is as adequate as any other and of course any version of the truth that reinforces my own personal world view must stand above all others.

Kvale explained:

In postmodern thought there has taken place an expansion of rationality. It is not just a “momentary lapse of reason” but going beyond the cognitive and scientific domain to include also the ethical and aesthetic domains of life in reason. “Modern times” involved a restricted concept of rationality with a dominance of technical means and rationality. There has been an emphasis on plans and programmes, on calculation, prediction and control. Reason and science have been overburdened with visions of Utopia where all human problems would be solved in the long run by the methods of science and technology.

Well perhaps all the problems of the world won’t be solved by rationality and science but I am sure this approach will take us further towards truth than dubious processes dependent on personal, subjective and irrational notions will. And it is surely erroneous to state as Kvale did that postmodernism represents “an expansion of rationality” when it indeed threatens rationality.

Now the problem with postmodernism is that it allows everyone to construct their own particular version of the “truth” that suits their own particular view of the world. And even worse, it prevents others from interrogating that “truth”. When truth becomes a subjective construct of the individual and it is coloured by the individual’s worldview often involving gender, religion, ethnicity, and political considerations and so on, interrogating the truth results in claims of racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and many other taboo areas where only the brave hearted are prepared to go..

Now to the casual observer postmodernism would seem to be a nihilistic philosophy and you might be forgiven if you asked what is the point of it. Well, in fact postmodernism is a disruptive artefact designed to have us question traditional Western beliefs. Whilst it offers nothing of substance to replace such beliefs, it opens up the opportunity for more radical thoughts to be implanted in the minds of doubtful people. And of course it is postmodernism that has fuelled those doubts. It is essentially a tool for indoctrination. It provides an opportunity for the radical left to displace conventional, traditional beliefs with the barrage of “woke” tropes they now promote.

It is the strategy that Mao used to initiate China’s “Cultural Revolution”.

The Unlucky Country - Zimmermann & Moens

There are limits to what we can know. I have used Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle in physics and Goedel’s Incompleteness theorem in mathematics in previous essays to demonstrate this fact. But nevertheless our best understanding of the world comes from the application of logic and the scientific methodology, not by subjective means.

Now I have written before about “other ways of knowing” and I believe that intuition has played a considerable part in the progress of knowledge. But something is not true just because you like the idea. Scientists and mathematicians have often been led by their intuition to propose various theses. But then they had to do the hard slog of verifying their particular notion to the satisfaction of their peers. The idea itself has to be substantiated for it to be considered as truth.

Students of the history of science would know the story of the German organic chemist, August Kekulé. Kekulé was trying to work out the molecular structure of benzene. Legend has it that he sat dozing by the fireplace in the winter of 1861. Kekulé suddenly had a vision of a snake devouring its own tale. That inspired him to explore the notion that the carbon atoms in the benzene molecule might be interlinked in a circle. This in fact proved to be the case. Kekulé’s fire side dream was a prompt but the concept could not have been developed without Kekulé’s knowledge of chemistry. So the intuitive idea was not in itself the truth until scientific methodology supported it.

But the postmodernists, rather than accepting the validity of knowledge eked out through such rational processes, argue that Western science has been used as a tool to subjugate others. In particular they argue that it devalues the traditional beliefs of indigenous peoples. The postmodernists are stridently anti-Western and, as a result, strive to “decolonise” the sciences and mathematics by attempting to argue that traditional indigenous beliefs have equal validity to the science and mathematics honed by rational processes over centuries which underpin Western thought.

The nonsense of this proposition is exemplified by the fact that I have not heard of a postmodernist relying on a shaman, witch doctor or a traditional sorcerer to solve their medical issues.

Claire Lehmann, the founding editor of Quillette magazine recently published an excellent article in The Australian newspaper which she titled “Knowledge and Truth are not mere Matters of Opinion”.

She recounted how indigenous activists in New Zealand and Australia were trying to insert into the educational curriculum so-called “indigenous science and mathematics” as though it had equal validity with Western science and mathematics. This is of course ludicrous. Indigenous people possess knowledge of the natural environment that was essential for survival in tribal societies in difficult environments. No doubt Western society might learn from this knowledge.

But as I have written elsewhere, the basic understanding of science and mathematics in such indigenous societies meant that they would be precluded from developing the differential calculus or Maxwell’s Wave Equations.

Now some truths are easy enough to learn but many are harder to discern.

For example it is easy to learn that electric stove tops are hot. All you have to do is put your finger on one to find that out! But to find out how they get hot requires a basic understanding of Ohm’s Law and other fundamentals of the theory of electricity.

Because the truth is not what you might like it to be, it can often be unpleasant and sometimes a burden. The Genesis parable of Adam and Eve eating of the fruit of the tree was no doubt designed to illustrate this.

Postmodernism is bent on creating its own ”convenient” truths which are often at odds with the real truths arrived at by rational processes of science and mathematics which have guided Western thought for centuries. If we yield to this notion we are in danger of regressing from a modern sophisticated society back towards the primitive tribalism from which these notions of subjective truth emanated.

It is both intellectually lazy and wrongheaded to believe we have the capacity to create our own subjective “truths”.

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Ted Scott AM was awarded an Order of Australia in 2004 for his contribution to industry, and was named one of Australia's top thirty business leaders in 2001 by AFR's BOSS Magazine. He holds degrees in Electrical Engineering and Economics and had a successful career in management in the electricity generation industry in Queensland, managing many power stations. Ted is a writer and the author of several books.

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